Goodbye Donald Tsang

Goodbye Donald Tsang: You Did the Wrong Job

In April 2006, almost a year since he became Hong Kong Chief Executive, Donald Tsang spoke of how being a birdwatcher helps bring you closer to nature and helps ease the mind from the strains and stresses of modern life. He said birdwatching shows that nature acts as a good balance to human life.

            These are fine words, which should resonate with a nature lover and birdwatcher like me. And yet, given Donald Tsang’s leadership of Hong Kong, these words rang hollow – for instead of striving to balance nature and human life, Mr Tsang helped propel Hong Kong towards ever more development, as if trying to create a land where concrete is king. Indeed, I often wonder if Donald Tsang might be the most environmentally destructive birdwatcher in history.

            Mr Tsang may have derived personal satisfaction from birds, and the carp kept in a pond he built with HK$300,000 of public money, but he made it clear from the start that he wasn’t going to let nature get in the way of developing Hong Kong through big projects. "I will insist on promoting economic development as our primary goal," he announced after first being elected as Chief Executive, listing ten major infrastructure projects.

            Anyone concerned about Hong Kong’s environment or cultural heritage might have been alarmed by such plans. Yet Mr Tsang also expressed even scarier ideas. “I'm a simple minded man and I will just do accordingly,” he told the Financial Times, in an interview in which he also suggested Hong Kong could accommodate 10 million people, and remembered his best job in public service as being reclaiming seas, pulling down mountains and building Sha Tin new town. “We got freedom. I did not have environmentalists in my hair in those days,” he remarked, laughing.

            Of course, Donald Tsang became leader of a city with abundant infrastructure, and with the problems that accompany it, including air pollution. Yet this did not seem to bother him too much; at an environmental forum, he said Hong Kong’s air is “not pristine pure as in some Scandinavian cities or in the North and South Poles,” and cited Hongkongers’ longevity as if it meant the air is healthy here – ignoring the fact that the people dying in old age had breathed clean air as children.

            In July 2006, Donald Tsang did launch the grand sounding Action Blue Sky Campaign, with the slogan 全城投入 為藍天打氣" (Chinese: All of the city participate to fight for a blue sky). But by no means all the city fought for clean air – perhaps least of all Mr Tsang – and within months the campaign faded, and would be better named Inaction Blue Sky.

            Hong Kong’s Air Quality Objectives were established during the Stone Age – well, actually during 1987– and in 2007 the Environmental Protection Department began a review process, to develop AQOs to better protect public health. Last year, Mr Tsang promised to announce new AQOs within the year; these would be passed to the Legislative Council. Yet with tighter restrictions on pollution threatening infrastructure projects, and never mind 3200 Hongkongers who die prematurely each year as a result of breathing filthy air, the AQOs are yet to be introduced. “Blue Sky” is hard to see in Hong Kong, and in March this year Bloomberg ran a story titled “Hong Kong as Dirtiest Financial Centre is Tsang’s Legacy”.

            Under Donald Tsang, even the Environmental Protection Department began working towards infrastructure construction, with a waste strategy that became focused on building one of the world’s largest waste incinerators on an artificial island beside Shek Kwu Chau. Others, too, seemed happy to adopt the never mind nature, let’s see how much we can build philosophy: ranging from rural businessmen, to government planners suggesting vast new reclamations.

            And yet, I believe this philosophy has declining overall support in Hong Kong, as more people consider they and their children should have a right to breathe without harming their health, as well as enjoy our remaining natural areas, and live in a place that safeguards its heritage. There are more campaigns and campaigners striving to reign in development, and focus more on conservation.

Perhaps Donald Tsang will be seen as the last of his kind, the product of a civil service in a city founded on reclaimed – and even borrowed – land. This was a place where you could build infrastructure that was soon worthwhile. Yet things are different now – note the few vehicles as you drive over the long and costly Stonecutters Bridge, for instance. Now, perhaps, it is time to reconsider what “development” means for Hong Kong, to strive for actual balance with nature, and aim for a long term future.

And, of course, it is time to say Goodbye, Donald Tsang. You did get a job done; yet sadly, it was the wrong job.

Written for Ming Pao Weekly; appeared (in Chinese) on 21 July 2012

Martin Williams
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Martin Williams's picture

你做了一份錯配的工作

2006年4月的時候,特首曾蔭權上任差不多一年的時候,曾經提到觀鳥可以幫助我們親近自然,減輕現代生活所帶來的壓力。他認為,透過觀鳥可以體會人與自然平衡的道理。

         說話很是動聽,對於我等熱愛自然、喜愛觀鳥的人來說更能引起共鳴。然而,曾蔭權領導香港的政績卻反映了這些說話的空洞無力。曾先生不但沒有致力在人與自然之間取得平衡,反而極力加速香港的發展,好像要建立一個以石屎量稱王的地方。事實上,我很多時候都懷疑曾蔭權可能是史上對環境最具破壞力的觀鳥人。

         也許,曾先生在觀賞鳥類飛翔,還有欣賞錦鯉在他花費30萬元公帑建造的池塘中暢泳時,得到很大的滿足感,但他打從一開始便已清楚表明自己並不會為了保育自然而阻慢各項大型建設和香港發展。他在當選行政長官時便宣佈了十大建設,並言明:「我們會堅持以經濟發展為首要目標。」

         任何關心香港環境或文化傳承的人士可能早就警覺到這些計劃的隱憂。然而,曾先生卻說出了更嚇人的意念。在一次接受《金融時報》的訪問中,他提到:「我只是一個思想簡單的人,所以我將會按部就班地行事。」訪問中,他也表示香港能有能力容納1,000萬人口,並回想自己在公務員生涯中的最佳工作,是填海、移山和建立沙田新市鎮,更大笑著指出:「我們那時很自由,環保人士那時候還不是我們的問題。」

         當然,曾蔭權成為了一位擁有大量基建城市的領導人,這些基建附帶各種相關的問題,包括空氣污染。只是這些問題似乎不怎樣令他感到困擾。在一個環境論壇上,他便表示「香港的空氣質素不及北歐城市或南北極地區清新」,並引述香港人的壽命數字,好像在說明我城的空氣是健康的,不用理會現在高齡離世的市民在孩提時所吸入的空氣是清新的這個事實。

         曾蔭權在2006年7月確有推出雷聲大的「藍天行動」,並以「全城投入 為藍天打氣」為口號。當然,口號並沒有推得動全城投入為清新空氣努力,最少曾先生本人便未見全力以赴。不到幾個月,行動的聲勢轉弱,「藍天沒行動」可能是一個更適合它的名字。

         香港的空氣質素指標建立於石器時代,說誇張了,其實是1987年。到了2007年, 環保署開始進行檢討,希望制定一套新的空氣質素指標來提高對公眾健康的保障。曾先生去年承諾在年內宣佈新的空氣質素指標,並轉交立法會跟進。然而,收緊污染條例意味著更多基建工程將受阻延––不用理會每年3,200名香港人因為吸入污染空氣而提前死亡的問題––這套空氣質素指標至今尚未出台。「藍天」在香港難得一見,彭博在今年3月便刊登了一篇題為「曾班子領導下香港成了最骯髒金融中心」的文章。

         在曾特首管理下,連環保署也展開了基建項目,例如垃圾策略的焦點,就是在石鼓州旁的人工島建立全世界最大的垃圾焚化爐。其他人似乎都樂於採納這套愛理不理、一同看看我們還有什麼可以興建的想法:由郊區的商人,以至提議作大範圍填海的政府規劃人員都如出一轍。

         儘管如此,我相信這種想法已越來越得不到香港的普遍支持,特別是越來越多人認為他們和他們的子女,都應擁有呼吸不會影響健康空氣的權利,有權享受僅餘的天然地帶,在一片尊重保育的土地上生活。越來越多行動和行動人士致力參與和支配發展,並以保育為焦點。

本文刊登於2012年7月21日明報週刊第2280期專欄「香港老番」

Pouring lots of money into concrete for integration projects

http://www.discoverybayforum.com/save/upload/DonaldTsang_Donald_Tsang_Si...

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